The Guild Light Gauge

It was my pleasure to recently speak with Fern Nash, the singer in both the Guild Light Gauge and Collection, whose 45s I featured back in May 2011.

This was something of a coup – there was so little that existed in the way of details about these 45s.   I was additionally surprised to learn that the two 45s were in fact directly connected through Fern and members of the Guild Light Gauge.  (I had originally written about the Collection and the Guild Light Gauge as entirely separate entities, connected only by a shared label and arrangement/production team.)

I’m thrilled to at last be able to provide some more details about the Guild Light Gauge, the Collection and Fern Nash.

Born Fern Kaufman in 1947, Fern grew up with two sisters in Queens, New York, her father a jeweler by trade, her mother a housewife.  While her father occasionally sang, Fern was, of her family, the one most inclined to music – she displayed an ear for playing music early on, picking out tunes overheard from her older sister’s piano lessons.  She also wrote lyrics, and loved harmony singing, teaching herself how to play guitar and flute along the way.

Fern entered Queens College in 1965, studying to be a teacher.  There she met fellow Queens College student Eddie Simon (Paul’s brother – they vocally sounded quite similar, apparently).  The two started harmonizing together during impromptu singing sessions at fraternity house events.   It was Eddie who introduced Fern to Ann Willcocks, then also a student, and from this trio of singers the Guild Light Gauge formed.

The Guild Light Gauge, from a series of publicity photos. Fern Kaufman (Fern Nash), Eddie Simon, Ann Willcocks. Bass player Stuie is in glasses. Note incorrect spelling of “Gauge.”

Paul Simon and Artie (as he was known) Garfunkel were both around Queens College as well, and it was Paul who dubbed this new group the Guild Light Gauge, a name based on a particular weight of Guild guitar strings.

The Guild Light Gauge live at the Bitter End

The Guild Light Gauge live at the Bitter End, Greenwich Village. (l-r) Fern Kaufman (Fern Nash), Eddie Simon, Ann Willcocks.

A fourth member, Stuie, joined them a bit later, playing bass for the group.

The Guild Light Gauge, whose focus from the start was on harmonies, were absorbed into the New York City folk scene.  Their time together would include not only a residency at Greenwich Village’s Bitter End in 1968, but a variety of more unlikely appearances, from Long Island racetracks to a spot opening for Spanky & Our Gang in West Virginia.  In these years, Nash cited everything from the Everly Brothers to the Critters (“Mr. Dyingly Sad”) to Laura Nyro and the Beatles as favorites, but singled out the lyrics and music of Joni Mitchell as an influence.

The Guild Light Gauge, Cloudy 
The Guild Light Gauge, CloudyBoth the Guild Light Gauge 45 (“Cloudy” b/w “14th Annual Fun & Pleasure Fair”) and Collection 45 (“Both Sides Now” b/w “Tomorrow is a Window”) were recorded while Fern was still in college.

The Collection, Both Sides Now (The Hot Biscuit Company P-1455)The Collection, Both Sides Now

The Collection 45 was recorded at a different session than the Guild Light Gauge, and again featured the vocals of members of the Guild Light Gauge – that’s Fern heard as soloist on “Both Sides Now” – though without Willcocks’s participation.  Both Jimmy Wisner and Artie Kornfeld were also on hand during these sessions.

While steeped in gorgeous, period-specific production and studio accoutrement, these vinyl releases did not necessarily reflect the largely acoustic format of the Guild Light Gauge, according to Fern.

Fern graduated from college in 1969 – in time to make it to Woodstock later that summer – and moved to Boston, there joining a group of folk singers named AHS. Recently married, and with her license to teach, Fern would relocate back to New York City in 1972, where in coming years she worked a variety of gigs, sessions and engagements on the periphery of the music world, including singing jazz (with the Bones of Contention – thirteen trombones!), writing jingles for Hudson’s, acting in commercials and joining a local musical theatre group.  In 1986, Fern began teaching music at Public School 139 (in Rego Park, Queens), and led her elementary school students in the Public School 139 Glee Club (who were featured singing at televised sporting events at Madison Square Garden and Shea Stadium).

Fern Nash, retired since 2010 from P.S. 139, and living in Bayside, Queens, has a full-grown daughter and son-in-law (both music major graduates), and a two-year-old grandson who enjoys the music he’s surrounded by.  Fern’s long-time love for singing and arranging continues to this day – she owns, and still plays, the piano she learned on as a child.

Note: Fern remained close friends with Ann Willcocks after the Guild Light Gauge dissolved.  Willcocks, who worked at Sony Music for many years (eventually rising to a Vice President position), is now retired and living in Atlanta, Georgia, and, according to Fern, still sings in her church’s choir.

Finally, there’s great YouTube footage of Paul playing “Anji,” with Eddie joining him on guitar (and Fern Nash making an appearance around 1:40).

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